Q&A | Zakes Bantwini: ‘The Star Is Reborn’

The master craftsman flexes his skill on this celebration of growth

08 December 2023 - 12:57 By Apple Music
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Grammy-award winning musician Zakes Bantwini.
Grammy-award winning musician Zakes Bantwini.
Image: Supplied

A continuation of the sonic story he started on 2022’s Ghetto King, the title of Afro-house producer Zakes Bantwini’s fourth album was spawned from a conversation about cars.

“People who fall in love with a car always look forward to the new facelift,” he told Apple Music.

“I think that's what happens with my music. I take time to give you a body of work. So when I give you the last album, you hold onto it until you get another one. When you really think about the sound I'm doing right now and the approach and the things I'm achieving, I feel like I'm indeed reborn in this music industry.”

The Star Is Reborn takes the futuristic Afro-house baton from Ghetto King and runs further, but this time the producer and DJ dares to venture into more personal subject matter.

“I feel I'm still in the same world, but maybe exploring other avenues,” he explained.

“Like when you're in the venue and you are told there is a VIP area. I feel like I'm still in that sound and trying to explore it even more and to see what's going to happen with it.”

The one year in between projects wasn’t exactly intentional, however. It’s more of a byproduct of Bantwini’s perfectionism.

“I just want you to feel like, 'This guy has worked on this thing’,” he confessed.

“People think that with dance music, people just don't work on it. For iParty 2.0, we had a 52-piece strings section. I want people to know this is a true art and this guy really worked on this. It's an album where a young person and an older person, a learned one or even a music enthusiast and a non-music enthusiast, will be able to fall in love with the craft.”

He talks us through key tracks on the album.

Zakes Bantwini initially sent the track 'Ugesi' to Mafikizolo's Theo Kgosinkwe before adding it to his latest album.
Zakes Bantwini initially sent the track 'Ugesi' to Mafikizolo's Theo Kgosinkwe before adding it to his latest album.
Image: supplied


Abasekho is a record I did after my father passed in January [2023]. I think I did that record after my dad's funeral. It’s a very, very personal song. “Abasekho” means “they're not around”. When my dad came to visit me at my house in Durban, he went home to say, “I’m coming back”. It was the same thing with my mom when she went to the hospital. “My son, I'm going to come back”. And then he never did.”


I wrote that record for Mafikizolo. I sent it to Theo, to say, “Hey, man. Do you like this record?” It was unsolicited. So we did the song. I called Skye Wanda, and Karyendasoul [as producer and co-writer]. And then I sent it to Theo [Kgosinkwe, one half of Mafikizolo] and he said, “Yo, man. I like it but we've just released so I don't know what are we going to do with it, so it's probably going to be with us for a year or whatever”. 

For me, it speaks about lovers having been in trouble around the issue of electricity. The other one talking about, “Yo, you couldn't get hold of me because there was no electricity”. It's very, very, current and I think the subject matter is very South African. It really hits home. It's a play on words and it’s really a fun track.


This song is around the issue of alcohol and alcoholism, and a friend of yours saying, “I'm never ever going to drink alcohol again, I promise you”. Simmy and I are telling our different stories because I touch on my friend abusing alcohol, and that he [owes] everybody now and he's always drunk, and then Simmy is talking about her friend, and she doesn't even know where she is now. She's always away and stuff. So the chorus culminates into this friend saying, “I'll never, ever drink alcohol again”.


This is a song that I worked on before, maybe 2000. It's an old record, but the lyrics were gibberish. The lyrics were the same as Osama. They did not make sense. So I felt like having a song which would be gibberish again. I was like, “Oh, man, what is it that people really love and talk about the most”? And the subject is Dubai. Everybody wants to go to Dubai. And so I was like “Okay, let me just work on the song about going to Dubai”, and that's what it is.”


This song is about still believing in love, even though you've been scarred by love. Everybody has been broken when it comes to the issue of love. But if I didn't believe in love, I wouldn't have had my wife or beautiful children and the life I'm living right now, because I think it's brought by the fact that I still believed in love. In believing in love, I found a partner, and we managed to build a family based on that. It's basically a confessional thing: Even though I've been through a lot and even though I've been hurt, I'm still going to love again and I want to love again.


This one is for the street. I wanted to do a song that would play at 3am in the club. It was meant to be an instrumental, but when we got into that break, I was like man, I need something here. I remembered hearing this clip somewhere. I was like, “Actually there's this clip that I liked”. And then that made me laugh. It made me like, this guy, confessing like, “Yo, I'm really representing all my boys, there's nobody who will love like I do”.


This a is a special record, another personal record. It is a song appreciating moms and the role they've played in our lives. It's actually a prayer for them, because most of the time it's them praying for us, and it’s just appreciating them. I remember when we were playing it back after we worked on it. The guys [in the studio] were literally crying. I've seen so many people shedding a tear when that record comes on. There was a time when I got so emotional [playing it], because my mom is no more. I actually stopped singing for a while because I didn't want to cry in front of everybody. They wouldn't actually understand. It's one of the special records.

Zakes Bantwini and singer-songwriter Simmy tackle alcohol abuse on Bantwini's 'Utshwala.'
Zakes Bantwini and singer-songwriter Simmy tackle alcohol abuse on Bantwini's 'Utshwala.'
Image: Supplied


This one is also for the streets. It was meant to be an instrumental, but later I was like, “Man, this has to be something which is going to keep looping. I was looking for a word that would loop nicely on that record and keep repeating. So there's no thinking. I don't want to go like, “Yeah” and be philosophical about this thing. I looked for a word that will just loop and worked, so Iyangena Iyaphuma was the one that really worked, so we used it.


There's a song of mine called Amanga . It’s a personal song and Abantu is a continuation of that song. You have to be careful of people who want to see you [go] down. It's really that song that says, “You need to be aware t there are people who sometimes will think about your life and how to destroy it”.

I think we all have had a fair share of that, but some people are lucky enough [to know when] people are actively trying to destroy them.

I know I've had a fair share of those. I've had to experience that over and over. At this level of my career, you still have people who want to destroy you. So, let me do a song. It’s the only way I know how to express myself. Abantu is advising my fans or people who cared to listen to say, “Be careful of people like this. They do exist”. It is an original song on Ghetto King. I reached out to the Africa Deep and said “Remix the song because it's special”.

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